NEW DELHI (AFP) - The campaigning chief minister of New Delhi who swept to power last month after leading protests against corruption called on Monday for a mass demonstration to disrupt Republic Day celebrations at the weekend.
Arvind Kejriwal, a firebrand grassroots organiser, took to the streets near the site of the annual Republic Day military parade on Monday to press his demands for reforms of the police in the capital.
"I couldn't sleep last night. All those who think their daughters, wives are not safe on Delhi streets, come and join us here," he said after battling police blockades to reach a spot near the presidency building.
"Earlier I thought it would create problems with the Republic Day celebrations. But celebrations are meaningless if we look at the current state of affairs," he told the crowd gathered around him.
"What is the meaning of Republic Day when our women are not safe? We will sit here till justice is delivered," he added, saying he intended to stay for 10 days.
The Republic Day celebrations, due Sunday, are an annual celebration of India's military when missiles, tanks and marching soldiers parade down the main road leading to the presidency building.
The whole area is locked down by security forces, meaning Mr Kejriwal's protest is likely to lead to a standoff.
His Aam Aadmi (Common Man) Party made sensational gains in Delhi state elections held in December and he is eyeing parliamentary polls due by May amid a surge in support nation-wide for his campaign.
Mr Kejriwal wants Delhi's police force, which is widely criticised as corrupt, to come under the control of the Delhi state government instead of the central government, which runs it via the home ministry.
Officers are often accused of taking bribes, failing to pursue cases or doing enough to protect women's safety in a city still seething from the much publicised fatal gang rape of a woman just over a year ago.
Last week, a 51-year-old Danish tourist was allegedly gang-raped in the capital, casting the spotlight once again on the city's negative reputation for attacks on women.
The Aam Aadmi has already clashed with law enforcement over policing tactics. The new Delhi Law Minister Somnath Bharti was accused last week of vigilantism after he went out to an area of south Delhi to raid a house allegedly used for prostitution and drug dealing.
Police would not follow his orders to raid the property without a warrant and Bharti was then accused of detaining four Ugandan women who said they were locked in a car and threatened by his supporters.
Mr Kejriwal has called for the police officers who refused to raid the house to be suspended and announced a sit-in protest on Monday at the home ministry which is next to the presidency building.